Forever My Lady

DONT BE STUPID, FOO’. DONT BE A PENDEJO.

    Dio looked at his homie Spooky’s grip on his jacket. Most of his boys called Dio “Playboy” because all the ladies loved him, but those who had known him since he was a kid called him by his real name, Dio.

    He took another hit off his joint. He’d given up smoking over a year ago, had to, but on this day he was more nervous than he had ever been in his life.

    Thunder rumbled and rain poured, making it impossible to see. Thunder scared Dio, always had. Dio fought to keep from shaking. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow. He tried to hide his fear. His mind was set. He had to do it.

    Dio yanked his arm away from Spooky and pushed the door open. “Just keep the car runnin’, ése.

    Spooky was a big guy, tattoos up and down his arm and a glass eye. He normally would have just kept Dio from leaving at all, but he knew nothing could stop him. Nothing at all.

    Dio jumped out of the car. It was a ’57 Chevy, complete with chrome wheels, slick red, with a chili-pepper-hot Mexican jaina painted across the hood. Dio had painted that picture himself. It was dope.

    He slammed the door shut and looked up at the cathedral in front of him. Lightning illuminated its majestic towers, windows with an eerie stained glass. He’d spent many a night imagining this would be where he’d marry her. They’d have a huge wedding with members of their families flying

in from all over the world just to watch this event, this marriage he thought was so destined to be. He’d put his everything into this dream, his one and only dream, and now as he yanked the heavy oak doors open, his heart pounded like a subwoofer.

    He dried his soaked clothes with his hand and scratched his shoes on the mat so as not to squeak across the old wood floor. The church was jam-packed, mostly with Mexicans and

Puerto Ricans, but some blacks.

    Probably his familia, Dio thought. How could she even think about marrying some pinche negro?

     The grand organ music permeated the building while a choir of children sang, their voices echoing throughout the church. It smelled musty in the air, a mix of wood stain and must as if they had never really cleaned the place, just painted over it.

    He tried not to look too suspicious, slipping past everyone. Funny, he was dressed probably better than he’d ever been. Black suit, his wavy black hair slicked back, starched white shirt, polished black shoes. Dio had grown into a very nice-looking young man. Maybe he could have even been a model, had he played his cards right. Maybe if he hadn’t grown up in the slums of

Northeast Vegas, he could have been one of those Latin heartthrobs who were in those magazines. Instead, most of the time he looked like the thug most people assumed he was just by looking at him. But on this day, this very weird day, he was even wearing a tie. Jennifer would have been so proud of him if she could see him. Funny, he’d probably be the last thing she’d see.

    He checked his jacket pocket to make sure it was still there. Yep, it felt like a brick pressed against his chest. But he was so numb, or more like so focused, that he was oblivious to it. All he knew was that he had to find Jennifer, and he would use any means necessary.

    Wham! Dio bumped hard into a glass table. His thigh throbbed in pain as bullets dropped from his pocket and bounced off the wood floor. The sound echoed all over the lobby. People looked around for the source of the sound, but Dio managed to scoop them up before anyone could see.

    He got up and noticed the beautiful ice sculpture on the table—melting, dripping like an ice-cream cone in August. Melting just like his heart.

    He saw Father Martínez, his priest, the one he’d grown up with. It was as if the whole world had turned against him. They’d sided with Jennifer, when this was supposed to be their wedding. It was as if she’d slapped him across the face, as if nothing they’d been through together even mattered.

The whole thing was surreal.

    She loved him. She’d said that over and over to him since they were little kids. She’d taken care of him and believed in him and dreamed with him and held him when nobody else had cared.

    “Estoy aquí para ti. No matter what—siempre,” they’d promised each other. And a promise was a promise.

    “Don’t be stupid, foo’. Don’t be a pendejo.” Spooky’s scolding remarks kept playing in his head. He warned Dio to just let it go. It wasn’t worth it. Normally Spooky would have been all for it, but this time around he said, “Olvídalo . . . let it go.” It was as if he sensed something was going to go

wrong and, no matter how high Spooky had been, his gut was always right. Dio only hoped this time around he was wrong. He had worked so hard. He could really get a fresh new start now, “a

new lease on life,” as his probation officer used to say, but now he was risking it all to confront Jennifer.

    Was Spooky right? Should he just let it go, face it that she didn’t want to be with him no matter how hard and bad it felt? Should he just forget the whole thing? Maybe he’d meet some other ruca. Time heals all wounds, they say, and maybe if he’d just—but no. Dio shoved those thoughts out

of his mind. He’d spent the last year changing his life around for her, so they could be together, so he would be the man she said she’d always wanted, so he could be the daddy his daughter needed. They were meant to be together and he was going to make Jennifer understand that, if it was the last thing he did.

    He could see Jennifer’s family in the front, dressed in their Sunday best. Her mom always made a spectacle of herself with her gigantic summer hat in purple. She never did like Dio and he knew she had probably orchestrated this whole thing, probably arranged the whole wedding herself.

He wondered if perhaps Jennifer was doing this just to make her mom happy, but then he saw her…  the music changed, the children’s choir sounded so beautiful, he had to admit, so irritatingly perfect. All heads turned and everyone gasped as the bride, Jennifer, made her way down the aisle. Her father took her arm, biting his lip, trying not to cry. He looks nervous, Dio thought.

    Jennifer looked incredible. How could she afford a dress like that? The guy must be rich or something. That’s probably what it was. That’s probably why she was marrying him. It had to

be the money. The one thing Dio could never give her. Her gown had a lace top, cut just low enough to show her sensual bustline, but high enough to showcase the first-class act that she was. Her face was shielded by her veil. He hadn’t seen her in so long. It seemed like the whole congregation held its breath with him.

    Her mom made a dramatic spectacle of herself. Her wails were the only thing that could be heard above the organ playing as the children’s choir reached a crescendo, then trailed off. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Even Dio had to fight the tears.

    Thunder rumbled. Her father escorted her over to her groom. He was a nice-looking man, a light-skinned black man. Maybe he was mulatto or something. He wore a striped, stuffed tie, not a traditional bow tie, and the tux must have been Armani or something. He had one of those smiles with teeth so white it blinded you. His gaze never left Jennifer, even as the priest rambled on and on with the vows.

    “I, Antonio Estrella—”

    What kind of nombre was that? Estrella? Jennifer Estrella. It just didn’t match her. No le queda.

    “. . . hereby take you as my wife, to have and to hold . . .”

    There was a lump in the back of Dio’s throat. He wanted to burst out, “No!” It hurt so much.

    “I, Jennifer Lalita Sánchez . . .”

    He couldn’t believe his ears; she was promising him her life.

    Thunder rumbled and the lights went out. There was a small gasp in the audience, but Jennifer just smiled, the candles illuminating her. She was too lost in the groom’s eyes.

    “. . . to have and to hold, through sickness and health . . .” she continued.

    He couldn’t help it anymore. Tears came streaming from Dio’s eyes. This was too much for him. He was about to explode. His blood boiled. He looked around at all the stained-glass Bible stories, the creepy statue of Jesus on the cross. He swore Jesus was glaring right at him as if he were saying, “No lo hagas . . . don’t do it.” He looked the other way, but the statue of the Virgin Mary scolded him as well.

    Dio couldn’t help but think how proud his own mother had been with how he’d changed his life around, the tears of joy she’d shed. He’d never seen her like that before. He shuddered to think how his mother would feel after all this went down, how ashamed she’d be. Maybe it would drive

her to drinking again. Drinking again, after how far she’d come around.

    “With the power invested in me by the state of Nevada, I hereby declare you . . . man and wife.”

    Dio couldn’t breathe. The only thing that kept him from passing out was seeing Jennifer’s face as her new husband lifted the veil. She was more beautiful than ever. She had olive-colored skin and was the type of girl who never did need any makeup. In fact, she hated wearing it. But this time she was wearing just enough. Her dark brown hair was curled; glitter sparkled in it. She looked like an angel, no, a goddess, better than the pictures Dio drew of her, better than he’d remembered her looking in his dreams.

    He’d never seen Jennifer so happy. Not even when she was with him. She had always seemed so distracted, but now she really did look like she was in love.

    How could that be possible?

    He loved her more than he’d ever loved anyone. Didn’t she see that? How could she do this to him?

    The ice sculpture melted like it was on fire.

    His heart raced as he reached for the .45 caliber in his pocket, which Dio called his cohete. He could hear the rain pounding against the stained-glass windows and the roof. His sweaty hands pulled for it, his heart in his throat. He crossed himself, closed his eyes, and prayed he was about to do the right thing.  

 

***

YOU GOT COTTON FOR BRAINS OR SOMETHING? MOVE!” THE DRILL INSTRUCTOR SCREAMED.

     He was nose to nose with Dio and Dio could smell the funk from the D.I.’s breath, like cigarettes and garlic. He was a stout black man who resembled a boar more than anything. His eyes were piercing enough to bring an elephant to its knees. His teeth had nasty coffee stains like he brushed his teeth with shit or something and never flossed. Spit sprayed out of his mouth with every syllable he spoke. Dio had a pounding headache from all the yelling and the D.I. had been doing it for the last twenty-four hours, ever since they got off the prison bus.

    Dio hadn’t had a cigarette in over a week and he was about to jump out of his skin. He’s been smoking since he was twelve. He was exhausted, hungry, and just not in the mood for all the bullshit. His mind was on something much more important than all this exercise crap that the D.I. had all the inmates, or trainees as they called them, doing. He was troubled, aching inside, like his heart had been ripped out and stomped on over and over. It had been over three weeks since he last saw her, since the accident happened. And he couldn’t help but wonder if she was okay. He didn’t even know if she was dead or alive. They wouldn’t even let him see her in the emergency room.

    The D.I. had made them run at least five miles so far, screaming in their faces every step of the way, and it didn’t look like he was going to let up. And Dio had to put up with a year-long sentence of this?

    This wasn’t legal. Was it? Dio knew prison boot camp wasn’t exactly prison, but they still had their rights as human beings. Didn’t they? How could someone make them do all this stuff and get away with it?

    Dio could hardly breathe. He felt sick to his stomach and now he had this lunatic screaming in his face like he was some retard or something.

    Who did he think he was talking to anyway? Here Dio was, almost eighteen years old, and he hadn’t been talked to like that since he was a little kid, and that was from his moms. On the streets everyone had respect for Dio. They all gave him props ’cause they knew he was tight with Spooky and no one fucked with Spooky. They didn’t call him Spooky for nothing. And second, they knew Dio would beat them to a pulp if they even looked at him wrong. You had to be that way in his neighborhood. There was no room for the weak or the lighthearted. They hit you, you had to hit them worse or they’d be treating you like their bitch the rest of your life. The vatos in the neighborhood were like dogs; they could sense if you were scared. Dio had seen enough atrocity by the time he was a teenager to make him callous to just about anything. Nothing got to him. He

couldn’t let it or it’d break him. He never ventured outside his neighborhood unless he had to anyway, unless of course he was hitting some putos in another hood for payback. His favorite time was chillin’ with his homies, smoking bud, bumpin’ the oldies.

    But more than that, more than anything, he loved spending time with his lady. His jaina, his ruca, his amor. Jennifer was by far the best thing that ever happened to him. Just when he questioned if there even was a God, God sent her into his life like a gift with a bow on top. They’d

met when they were just thirteen in Clark Middle School. And it was like meeting a long-lost friend. It was surreal. It was as if they’d known each other forever.

    Dio remembered that day. It wasn’t any more special than any other day he’d had in middle school. It was a typical day from hell for a seventh grader.

    “You’re not too bright, are you, kid?” asked his language arts teacher, Mr. O’Donnell. Young Dio sank in his desk as the class laughed in his face. He only wanted to ask a question. He didn’t know

what a pioneer was. He’d missed so much of class and he wanted to catch up. He didn’t think it was such a stupid question.

    “Haven’t you been paying attention? We spent the last three weeks doing nothing but talking about the Oregon Trail and you’re just now asking what a pioneer is? Should we send you to ESL or something?”

    The class roared with laughter. Sure they’d think that was funny. He was practically the only Mexican in the class, except for this skinny, nerdy little girl everyone called Pancake because of her flat chest, but he knew her name was Jennifer. She was the only one who didn’t laugh. Nobody else had to put up with the snide, undermining, racist remarks from everyone every day.

    Dio was burning up inside. His eyes squinted and his nose flared. What happened next he didn’t quite remember, but when he came to, Mr. O’Donnell was on the floor holding his bloody nose. The next thing Dio knew, he was in the principal’s office being screamed at. Dio waited for his mother to come and get him.

    “That’s the trouble with you people,” the principal said.

    “We do whatever we can to accommodate you in our classes and what do you do?”

    “It’s not his fault,” a squeaky voice said.

    Dio looked up and saw it was Jennifer from class. She pushed her glasses up and rubbed her nose.

    “Excuse me?” the principal said.

    “It was Mr. O’Donnell. He was saying—”

    “There is no excuse for that kind of behavior.”

    “I wanted to punch him myself,” Jennifer said.

    Dio looked at her with shock. She’d never said anything to him before. In fact, he couldn’t remember a time when she said anything to anyone. Most of the time people “accidentally” bumped into her as she walked down the hall or threw spitballs in her hair if they paid any attention to her at all.

    “I don’t think it’s fair for him to get in trouble.”

    “What are you doing out of class?”

    “I walked out.”

    “You what?”

    “I walked out. I told Mr. O’Donnell I didn’t think it was right and he sent me to your office.”

    From that day on, Dio and Jennifer were the best of friends. Besides his boys, she was the only friend he really had. He had to admit he was a little embarrassed walking down the hall with someone like her, but then he got over it. Nobody knew her like he did. Nobody liked being with

her like he did. She didn’t have the easiest life either, with all the yelling and screaming in her house. But they’d both hide away in her tree house and talk the whole night and they’d eat Rolos ’cause she knew Dio loved chocolate. And she’d sing to him with the most beautiful voice and talk about their dreams. They’d sleep there at night whenever things were bad. They never messed around or anything; their bond went beyond sex. It was a friendship, a true friendship Dio had never experienced before.

    But then they were separated when his mother kicked him out of the house that year and he ended up lost in the foster-care system until he was eighteen. He thought he’d never see her again, until they were reunited just months ago after all these years. It was like they picked up where they left off.

    It wasn’t just some puppy love for the two of them. No, it was true love, real love that only comes around once in a lifetime, and Dio felt lucky just to hold her in his arms. He felt alive kissing her soft lips, or smelling the scent of her hair when she hugged him and buried her head in his chest. Everything about her he loved.

    She was the first one to notice his talent as an artist and encouraged him to go for his goal of owning his own car design shop.

    “Nobody will hire me,” he would say.

    “You won’t have to be hired, you’ll be hiring them!” she’d respond. He loved it when she said things like that.

    She was the only one who saw him as more than just some thug on the street, some vato, some gangsta. She encouraged him; she believed in him like nobody ever had. He was so much more than the way most people saw him and she knew it. He hated driving down the street and having people lock their car doors as he pulled up. He hated the way they pulled their children closer to them as he walked by as if he were going to snatch the kids right out of their arms. He hated being hassled by the cops every night he went out to chill with his girl for no other reason

than being Chicano in a nice car. He hated being judged, period. Jennifer saw the real side of him, the side he never showed anyone, his vulnerable side. He could tell Jennifer anything and she’d listen. She’d share with him her deepest secrets that she wouldn’t dare tell her familia and she knew he’d never say a word. They were more than just lovers; they were best friends, and she was by far the only best friend Dio had left. And even that was in question. It seemed like anyone

who ever got close to Dio ended up dead or abandoned him. It was like a curse, and now it was driving him loco not knowing if she was okay.

    “Halt!” the D.I. said. “I said halt!”

    Most of the trainees were about as confused as he was, didn’t have a clue what the D.I. was talking about, but they figured he must be telling them to stop.

    Thank God. Maybe now they could rest. He was beyond exhausted. He felt like his stomach, his lungs, and everything else would come spewing out of his mouth at any moment. The only one who looked more pitiful than him was this skinny mulatto kid the D.I. called Simon. He looked

like he’d fall over if someone breathed on him hard. He had to be the nerdiest-looking kid Dio had ever seen. You could play connect-the-dots with the poor kid’s zits. Dio hated to admit it, but he wondered, with Simon’s Coke-bottle glasses and everything, how the kid could manage to look at himself in the mirror. It was that bad.

    “What are you huffing and puffing about, trainee?” the D.I. said, screaming at the top of his lungs in Dio’s face. Dio was keeled over trying to catch his breath. “Looks to me like you’re out of shape. Stand up.”

    “I can’t.”

    “I? Who’s ‘I’? Your name is Trainee Radigez.”

    “Hold up, a’ight? Jeez,” Dio said. The words came out of Dio’s mouth before he realized the big mistake he had just made. It was too late. The D.I. came at him like a semi.

    “Who the hell you think you’re talking to, boy? Who said you could talk to me, trainee? What’s the third general rule from your manual?” Dio was supposed to have memorized some fifty-page

manual they gave them the night before with all these ridiculous rules and regulations. But the last thing that was on his mind was reading some stupid booklet.

    Dio rolled his eyes and stood up. “I don’t know. You tell me.”

    “You gotta be out of your cotton-pickin’ mind. You dying on me, trainee? You better be dying on me if I see them eyes rolling around in your head again. The third general rule is, ‘ Trainees do not speak unless they are given permission.’ You hear me, boy?”

    “Yeah, yeah.”

    “How do you answer an officer?”

    Dio shrugged.

    Drill Instructor Jackson mimicked him. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Jackson flicked Dio’s long hair. “Nice,” he said with a smirk on his face. “Are you a sissy?”

    Dio was burning up. What was wrong with his hair? Sure it was long; he hadn’t cut it since he was like thirteen. Jennifer liked it that way. She always said that was her favorite part of him, that and his eyes. Besides, it reminded him of the Bible stories of Samson that his mother used to read him. Samson never cut his hair because it gave him strength; same for Dio. That strength had kept him alive all these years.

    “I asked you a question, trainee.”

    “Hell, no. I ain’t no sissy. What the fuck do you want me say?”

    “You’re really cruisin’ for a bruisin’, aren’t you, trainee? ‘Sir! Trainee Radigez doesn’t know, Senior Jackson, sir!’ That’s what you say!”

    “Sir, Trainee Rodríguez don’t know, Senior Jackson, sir,” Dio answered back half-heartedly.

He just wasn’t in the mood for this. He could feel the stares of the other trainees. He hated when people stared at him.

    Senior Jackson cupped his ears, “What? Say that again. There something the matter with your voice? I can’t hear yooooooooou!”

    “Nooooo, there’s nothin’ wrong with my—”

    Jackson shoved his finger at Dio’s head. “Think, trainee, think.”

    If he touches me one more time . . .

    “Goddamn, you’re a slow learner. Are you a slow learner, Trainee Radigez?”

    “Sir, it’s Rodríguez, sir. Not Radigez.”

    Jackson stepped up to Dio like a train about to hit a car on the tracks. “You correcting me, boy? You don’t speak until spoken to, you don’t shit ’til you’re told to, and you don’t eat, sleep, or breathe unless I tell you to. Do I make myself clear?”

    “Yes . . . sir, yes, sir!”

    He cupped his ear again. “What? I can’t hear you, trainee. There are no secrets here, trainee. Speak up!”

    “Sir, yes, sir!” Dio hated repeating himself and he hated even more having to speak up when he didn’t feel like it. Everyone was staring at him as if he were an idiot, worse yet, as if he were

some bad kid in the classroom who just got in trouble. It brought back too many bad memories.

    Jackson looked Dio up and down, heaving and huffing. He let out a little laugh. “You look like an ignoramus. Are you an ignoramus, Trainee Radigez?”

    What the hell was that supposed to mean? Dio wondered. It didn’t sound good.

    “Sir, no, sir.”

    Jackson turned to the other trainees. “Does he look like an ignoramus, trainees?” They looked at one another trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about. “Look at me, dammit! I asked you a question!”

    They obeyed and answered back with a mish-mashed version of “Sir, yes, sir!” and “Sir, no, sir!”

Jackson laughed in their faces. He gave them the onceover, pacing in front of the line one step at a time. They were all wearing dark shirts, the sign of a beginner in the camp.

    “You got three levels to get past in this camp and half you faggots won’t make it past the first one.” He flipped through the pages of a clipboard and shook his head. “You don’t know what it means. Do you? Do you?”

    “Sir, no, sir!” they answered.

    “So I got a bunch of dummies here. Oh, great. Hit dirt and give me fifty.”

    They looked at one another as if looking for some clarification. “Now!” and they dropped like flies, giving him pushups. Dio couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t he see they were exhausted as it was? Why was he making them do more?

    This was stupid.

    “There is no fun here. If you’re not working, you’re in school studying. And every night if you’re not in your bunks sleeping, you’re reading the dictionary. Each of you will be provided a copy of it and I expect you to know it backward and forward along with your general rules. The next time you don’t know a word I want you to look it up in the dictionary. And you better know what it means, next time I ask ya. I expect every single one of you to know the meaning of ignoramus by tomorrow. Do I make myself clear, trainees?”

    They stuttered, then coughed up, “Sir, yes, sir!”

    “What in the hell was that? You sound like a bunch of pansies. Are you a bunch of pansies, Trainee Grossaint?” He stepped in front of a white kid with ice-blue eyes and chiseled features, diligently doing pushups as if he were reading a book.

    “Sir, no, sir!”

    “You sure about that, Grossaint? ’Cause you all sound like a bunch of pansies. So, we got a bunch of pansies and dummies. Great combination.”

    Dio felt sick to his stomach. He felt as if he were going to cough up his lungs at any moment. He could barely handle the five pushups he had done already and he had forty five more to go?  His body quivered with each pushup.

    Jackson bent over and got into Dio’s face, “What kind of pushup is that? That’s not even a girl pushup.”

    The trainees chuckled, which burned Dio up. “I’m . . . sir, I’m . . . Trainee Rodríguez is trying, sir.”

    “Trying? What the hell does that mean? Trying? You either do it or you don’t. You are a pathetic excuse for a man if I ever did see one.” Jackson stuck his weathered boots under Dio’s chin. “When your chin hits these boots, then that’s a pushup. Start over . . . one . . . two . . .”

    He says one more word, one more word . . . , Dio thought. He would have done something about it right then and there, but now he was feeling sicker than before. It could have been the dung smell of Jackson’s boots, could have been the exhaustion, could have been anything, but when it happened, Dio had never felt more embarrassment in his life. His last meal and about everything else he had in him poured out of his mouth in chunks right on Jackson’s shoes.

    “What in the hell? Get up, trainee! Get . . . up!” Dio struggled up. “I can’t believe this!” Jackson went on. “You sick or something, trainee?”

    “Sir . . . no . . . sir.”

    “Then why the hell . . . ? You’re out of shape; that’s what your problem is. And you probably want a cigarette, too. Would you like that, trainee? Would you like a cigarette?”

     “Sir, yes, sir.”

    “This look like a quickie mart to you, Radigez? Grossaint, get over here.”

    Grossaint hustled over to Jackson’s side. “Sir, yes, sir!”

    “This look like puke to you, Grossaint?”

    “Sir, yes, sir.”

    “Why is there puke on my boots, Grossaint?”

    “Sir?”

    “Don’t make me repeat myself, Grossaint. That really ticks me off.”

    “Sir, ’cause Trainee Radigez—”

    “No! No! And no, Grossaint! There’s puke on my boots ’cause you haven’t cleaned it off yet. Get on down there and clean it up.”

    Grossaint dropped to his knees. “Sir, how do I—”

    “You got a shirt, don’t you?” Grossaint grimaced. He gave Dio a look of disgust and

took the lower end of his T-shirt and began to clean it up while still wearing the shirt. What a smell.

    “Hurry up, we got a lot to do. And I want to see myself in the reflection by the time you’re done. Hurry up, Grossaint.” Grossaint worked hard at the shoes, scurrying after Jackson as he approached Dio. Everyone watched in shock. Dio couldn’t have been more embarrassed, but he kept up his façade. Jackson stood in front of Dio, nose to nose, and for the first time said something in almost a whisper. “How you feeling now, Radigez?”

    It was not what he said that bothered Dio the most, but the way he said it. All that could be heard was the trainees catching their breath and Grossaint scrubbing at the shoes. Jackson’s intense dark eyes peered right through Dio’s soul, but he lifted his chin in a defiant stance. “I said, how you feeling now, Radigez?”

    “Sir, fine. Feeling fine now, sir,” Dio answered back, never looking away.

    A smile curved on Jackson’s face as he stared Dio down.

    “There is no competition here, Radigez. No challenge to overcome. One way or another, you’re going to learn. I will win. I always do.” He resumed his normal top-of-his-lungs resounding voice. “One of you fuck up, you all fuck up. Understand?” Jackson said. He looked right at Dio as he said it.

    “Sir, yes, sir!” the trainees answered back.

    “You done yet, Grossaint?”

    “Sir, yes, sir!”

    “Get up then and get into place. Take your shirt off, Grossaint. What’s wrong with you?”

    “Sir, yes, sir!” Grossaint answered.

    “Seems to me Trainee Radigez is tired, so you’re all going to have to do the running for him. Five more miles.” They couldn’t believe it. Dio could feel their cold stares on the back of his neck. “Now!” Jackson commanded.

    “Sir, yes, sir!”

    “You just sit there and relax, Radigez. Sit there and enjoy yourself. Don’t worry,” he said with a crafty smile, “they’ll take care of everything.” CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE THE FULL-LENGTH NOVEL VERSION OF THIS STORY